40 years of Stereophile: The Hot 100 Products Page 7
First Stereophile review: January 1963 (Vol.1 No.3; also Vol.11 No.5, Vol.15 No.9). It was cheap and cheaply made, but David Hafler's simple little two-channel tube amp introduced the importance of good-sounding electronics to more audiophiles than any other product. It also spun off a pro-audio dynasty when the founders of Sunn used first the kit version, then OEM chassis supplied by Dynaco, for musical-instrument amplification. And it triggered an explosion in tube-amp design in the 1980s as a new generation of designers realized, "Hey, I can do better than that." A few were even right.
 (tie): Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier, Conrad-Johnson ART line preamplifier, Mark Levinson No.33 Reference monoblock power amplifier, Rockport Technology System III Sirius turntable
First Stereophile reviews: Boulder, July 2002 (Vol.25 No.7); Conrad-Johnson, May 1998 (Vol.21 No.5; also Vol.25 No.6); Mark Levinson, no review; Rockport, August 2000 (Vol.23 No.8). When a product is the "best-sounding," as each of these four undoubtedly is in its category, there is not a lot more that needs to be said.
 (tie): B&W Nautilus, Infinity IRS, Wilson Audio WAMM loudspeakers
Stereophile reviews: B&W, no review; Infinity, March 1986 (Vol.9 No.2); Wilson, August 1983 (Vol.6 No.3). One uses cone/dome drivers in a conventional cabinet (if something resembling a snail could be called "conventional"), the other two use dynamic, planar-magnetic, or electrostatic upper-range drivers in a panel array and conventional woofers in a separate tower. All three were made in minuscule numbers, and all three are the finest-sounding true full-range loudspeakers I have heard.
: B&W 801 Matrix Series 2 loudspeaker
Stereophile review: December 1987 (Vol.10 No.9). Widely used in classical recording studios and high-end systems alike, the revised version of the big B&W took the concept of a high-quality minimonitor integrated with a bass bin to a far wider audience than its $5000/pair price would suggest was possible. "Possibly the best-selling high-end loudspeaker ever sold in the US," notes Wes Phillips, and "certainly the most influential dynamic loudspeaker design of its generation." The current Nautilus incarnation of the 801 builds on a solid base of quality.
: Magnepan Magneplanar Timpani loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: Spring 1973 (Vol.3 No.4; also Vol.8 No.6). Back in the late 1980s, more Stereophile readers owned Magneplanar panels than any other loudspeaker. Jim Winey's twin ideas of using an array of ceramic refrigerator magnets and bonding a flat wire coil to a Mylar diaphragm allowed him to create a magnetic equivalent to an electrostatic speaker but without some of the latter's problems, and with additional benefits such as ease of drive and much higher power handling. The current Magnepan designs may use a ribbon tweeter and be refined in all areas of performance, but are no different in concept from what Paul Bolin calls "a landmark in the dictionary sense of the word."
: AR XA turntable
Stereophile review: Summer 1967 (Vol.2 No.5). While it was let down by a poor tonearm and cheap construction, Edgar Villchur's deceptively simple-looking turntable created the formula for almost every high-end turntable introduced in the past 40 years: belt drive and a suspended subchassis both provided high-pass filter action to isolate the stylus/groove interface from, respectively, motor- and loudspeaker-generated vibration.
: Koetsu Rosewood MC phono cartridge
Stereophile review: December 1985 (Vol.8 No.7). The ultimate design to come from the late Sugano-sama, the Koetsu set new standards for sound quality and price. Outclassing the turntables and tonearms in which it was mounted, it triggered an end-of-era flowering of analog design and engineering.
: Vandersteen 2 loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: August 1986 (Vol.9 No.6; also Vol.12 No.5, Vol.13 Nos.1 & 5, Vol.16 Nos.4 & 9, Vol.23 No.10). In production for a quarter century and incrementally improved throughout that period, the modest-looking 2 offers astonishingly clean, extended, and detailed sound without ever losing sight of the music. That it does all this for just $1500/pair is a tribute to Richard Vandersteen's talent but also foresight.
: Quad ESL-63 loudspeaker
First Stereophile review: September 1983 (Vol.6 No.4; also Vol.6 No.5, Vol.7 No.7, Vol.8 No.3, Vol.10 No.1, Vol.12 Nos.2 & 6). An inspired planar design from a true audio genius, England's Peter Walker, and still in production (as the ESL-988) more than two decades after its introduction, the Quad has survived when bigger, more complex full-range electrostatics have long since disappeared. "A no-brainer classic," writes Paul Bolin. "People will be listening to the ESL-63 40 years from now and loving every minute." Amen.
: Linn Sondek LP12 turntable
First Stereophile review: February 1984 (Vol.7 No.2; also Vol.13 No.3, Vol.14 No.1, Vol.16 Nos.11 & 12, Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.2). Still in production after nearly 30 years, this Scottish turntable was featured on almost every Stereophile writer's list. The LP12 demonstrated the importance of the turntable to system performance. As a result, it has brought the sonic benefits of belt drive and a suspended subchassis to more audiophiles than all other high-end 'tables combined.